A prolific author of action/suspense novels turns his skills to the distressing problem of elephant poaching in Kenya.
Ridley Pearson is known for fast-paced, plot-driven series for adults as well as for children. White Bone is the fourth novel in his Risk Agent series (after The Red Room), starring John Knox and Grace Chu, whose relationship undergoes significant change in this installment.
Knox is an importer/exporter of international arts and crafts, a career that provides him good cover for his clandestine work with Rutherford Risk, an international security firm that specializes in hostage extractions. Grace Chu is a forensic accountant and hacker, and a colleague at Rutherford Risk. As White Bone opens, Knox has received a troubling text message from Grace, just before she goes radio silent. Troubled, he follows her into the field.
Grace was sent into Kenya to track a stolen shipment of donated measles vaccines. The case quickly expands to involve the widespread criminal practice of poaching elephants for their tusks and rhinoceroses for their horns, and possibly the funding of terrorism. Corruption is standard operating procedure in Kenya, so Knox must beware of governmental agents and the police as well as the criminals he is tracking. When he arrives in Nairobi, Grace has been missing for days: he fears her cover has been blown.
Pearson’s plot is complex, watertight and humming with tension. The finest details are realistic and disturbing, and often require at least a moderately strong stomach, as when Grace, stranded alone in the bush, suppresses her usual hygiene habits in favor of survival practices gleaned from a Maasai guide. While the bulk of the story follows Knox, Grace appears both directly and in others’ narratives, posing a character development challenge that Pearson handles deftly. A large cast also includes a disillusioned British journalist, a Somali poacher, a Kenyan vigilante/folk hero, a helpful police officer, an activist lawyer and a resourceful Kenyan boy insistent upon becoming Knox’s right-hand man. Knox follows disparate threads and threats; Grace defends herself against jackals, lions and organized criminals; and the novel’s pace races as her situation worsens.
White Bone is richly detailed and filled with intrigue that encompasses terrorism, corruption and lingering colonial strains. Its characters are nothing if not passionate, and these passions include the author’s obvious concern for the central problem of elephant poaching. Pearson’s writing is informative and allows his muscular story to take center stage. Series fans will remain committed, and new readers will be drawn in, with no background knowledge necessary to follow this action-packed novel combining the thriller, adventure and mystery genres.
This review originally ran in the June 24, 2016 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade. To subscribe, click here.